“This is basically a dry run for 2012,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that favors stronger regulation of political expenditures. “As we get closer to the November 2012 elections, each side is testing their game and seeing what works. It’s a whole new ballgame.”
The New York race is the latest sign that 2012 is likely to be a particularly active election for outside political groups, which are not constrained by the same contribution limits as the candidates and political parties. Such groups broke records for midterm elections in 2010, and they appear poised to do the same next year.
One new group called the Republican Super PAC, for example, plans to actively coordinate fundraising with incumbents and favored challengers. Founder James Bopp, a Republican lawyer who has spearheaded numerous challenges to campaign-finance laws, has said he believes a federal ban on coordination between candidates and independent groups applies only to spending, not fundraising.
Two Democratic-leaning groups, Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, have responded by asking the Federal Election Commission to weigh in on the legality of Bopp’s approach. The two groups say they will also enlist the help of lawmakers in raising money if the FEC says it is allowed.
The charge from the right has been led by American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC founded last year that has dedicated nearly $700,000 to ads attacking Hochul and Davis. Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has vowed to raise $120 million for the 2012 cycle.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said many special elections often serve as magnets for spending by the parties and outside groups, and the New York race is no different. He said Crossroads will continue to spend heavily in many competitive races through next November.
“The Crossroads groups have stated that we’ll be involved heavily in 2012, both in congressional races and the presidential side as well,” Collegio said.
Democratic officials and their supporters say Hochul’s chances of capturing the seat remain uncertain, but they say the debate over Medicare and Davis’s unorthodox campaign give her a clear opportunity. Groups supporting Hochul include the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent about $270,000, and labor groups such as the Communications Workers of America and the Service Employees International Union.
House Majority PAC, which was formed just last month, has spent about $370,000 on television ads attacking Corwin’s stance on Medicare, according to FEC records filed as of Friday. Executive Director Alixandria Lapp said the group decided to jump into the race after seeing an initial surge in spending by American Crossroads and other conservative organizations.
The Albany Times-Union reports:
Here’s a fun compilation from Bill Mahoney, NYPIRG’s spreadsheet wunderkind/geek/guru, tracking outside spending in the 26th Congressional District special election.
Mahoney found outside entities have spent $1,253,427.37 on Corwin, compared to $916,594.45 on Hochul. Corwin’s backers include Americans Crossroads; Hochul’s include SEIU 1199.